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Cubs make first public appearance

Two lion cubs born on Christmas Eve are venturing out from their den for the first time.

The rare Asiatic lions are the first cubs to be born at Bristol Zoo Gardens for 10 years and only the second pair bred at the zoo and up to now, first-time mother Shiva and father Kamal have kept the cubs away from visitors, either inside their den or hidden in the undergrowth.

The cubs, a male and a female, are just over 10 weeks old and yet to be named. The moment of their birth was caught on video - an extremely rare occurrence - and since then the zoo's mammal team has been monitoring them closely.

Matthew Webb, overseer of mammals, said: "They're brilliant little cubs. They are doing really well and mum's looking after them amazingly.

"The female is a little bit quieter than the male. The male is a little bit bolshie, quite playful, you can tell he's going to be a bit of a tyrant when he's older.

"Still being quite small, mum is keeping them away and hiding them out the back, but they're just starting to get more confident and be a bit more active now. They're very cuddly and cute, so people just love to come and see them."

In the wild, only about 400 Asiatic lions remain in the Gir Forest Sanctuary in northern India.

Two thousand years ago they once roamed the whole of the Middle East. More recently they were widespread throughout northern India and Pakistan, but their numbers have been drastically reduced by hunting and habitat destruction.

To help protect the Asiatic lion from extinction, Bristol Zoo Gardens is participating in an internationally co-ordinated conservation breeding programme.

There are fewer than 100 Asiatic lions in captivity throughout the world and it is important to ensure that all lions are pure-bred and that pairs are not closely related to one another. Bristol Zoo's cubs will eventually be introduced to new, unrelated animals as part of the breeding programme.

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